“When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar…. Then Absalom commanded his servants, ‘Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, “Strike Amnon,” then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.’ So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded….Jonadab said, ‘Amnon is dead. For by the command of Absalom this has been determined from the day he violated his sister Tamar.'” 2 Samuel 13:21-22,28-29,32
Absalom’s story in 2 Samuel 13-18 is a sad one, and from the time he enters the stage, he seems bitter. Perhaps his extreme good looks gave him a sense of swagger and entitlement among all his half-siblings in what had to be a crazy royal household. When his sister is raped by their half-brother Amnon, David is angry, but as far as we know, does nothing. Absalom stews, and his anger grows into bitterness toward the culprit as well as, we can assume, his father who did not intervene. He has Amnon killed, flees in fear of retribution, returns after three years by order of the king although David won’t face him (perhaps he is unsettled by his own- be it forgiven- sexual sin and murder plot). Absalom’s bitterness multiplies into rash, destructive behavior, igniting Joab’s field to get attention, then conspiring over four years against his father to become king himself. His bitterness takes over reason as he presses his agenda, displaces his father, and goes into David’s concubines “on the roof, in the sight of all Israel,” a horrendous display of disrespect and self-exerted authority.
How does a bitter impulse grow so destructive? It went unchecked. In my garden I used to try my best to extricate the Johnson grass, that awful green stuff that spread its roots underground like a disease. If I pulled up what I saw, it could just snap off, and would reappear within a day or two. But after a rain, I could gently pull, and up would come all its trailers and other sprouts. Unchecked, it could take over the garden, but when removed thoroughly by the root, its damaging sway was removed. “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit.” “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” We must beware, be vigilant, and see to checking any bitterness in ourselves and those we disciple. Allowing wrongs done to us to fester, imagining the worst from a terse email received, stewing over circumstances we abhor or unmet dreams we think we deserve, are all poison to the heart and to any community. (Deuteronomy 29:18; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 12:15)
O God Who sees and knows all, give me eyes to recognize and bold will to confess and check any bitter impulse in me, and leave all its reasons with You. Uproot it immediately that it not spread its wicked tendrils. May I rather grow in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 3:18)